Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Atheist Home Educator's First Aid Kit

If, like me, you found yourself flagging after the New Year, perhaps to the point where you almost felt a twinge of envy at the thought of all those parents being freed up when the schools reopened - if you felt you simply couldn't face helping anyone play shop any more or build another lego model, or bake another loaf of bread; if you wondered as to the meaning of it all, the point of Christmas, whether it really is worth the effort, I have the perfect answers which come in the form of a very small reading list.

Yup, if fleshing out the non-theistic but spiritual side of rational parenting is what you fancy, you couldn't do much better than "Everyday Blessing: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting" by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. For the parent who takes their child seriously, there may be a few passages that you might want to re-write, but overall, the principle of respect for the autonomy of the child is taken as paramount, and better still, self-sovereignty is given it's proper emotional and spiritual significance. Faciliting the autonomy of the child is recognised as being truly extraordinary work, as enriching for the parent as it is for the child.

I have to admit to a past history of miserable failure when it comes to meditative techniques. I would sit around with ants-in-my-pants, itching to get going, to engage someone in my latest thought, or to scream with boredom, whilst all around me seemed eminently capable of achieving authentic bliss with what seemed like absolutely no effort at all. This book has however managed to get me much closer to an understanding of how to achieve a meditative state and this at least partially because the authors readily concede that for many the meditative process is incredibly difficult, which of course immediately made it significantly easier.

The authors manage to link meditative practice to parenting in a convincing and liberating way. The balance and peace that is generated in those few moments of meditation where one feels freed from the urgency and dictatorial nature of one's thoughts, it can spill into one's parenting, making one more able to think creatively, to give up on the first inclination more easily, and at the same time to see one's child more clearly and more lovingly. Yup, this is perfect nourishment that might be the necessary sequel to The God Delusion.

And as to the point of Christmas, (and thanks so much to the kind Christian person who opened my eyes to the possibility of this one), instead of celebrating the birth of Christ, how about using the festival to celebrate one's own family? To marvel at and relish their existence and to honour the sovereignty and to recognise one's sacred duties in facilitating it.

For the second course for the flagging home educator, I would highly recommend Barbara Tizard's Young Children Learning, which without an apparent agenda, demonstrates that conversation with a very close adult (here the mother) is likely to be far more illuminating and educational for the child than the learning environment of the nursery school. If you need to wake up to the richness of those apparently inane or idiosyncratic conversations that you have with a young person, this is the book for you. In those seemingly banal conversations about what one should wear, about the contents of garden sheds and library fines, whether or not drivers should jump a red light, about who should have which bit of lego, it is the energy of the child to know, the richness of the shared knowledge and the freedom to explore without the imposition of pre-determined objectives which contributes to the growth of a wealth of knowledge, and leads the authors to conclude that teachers should learn from parents rather than the other way round.

This should be compulsory reading for any policy maker connected with the Early Years Foundation Stage. By rights, it should mean they simply throw their hands in the air, concede that all the government directives in the world are unlikely to solve the essential problems of nursery schools, and that parents should keep on educating their children in the wider world.

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